I had a mini-escape earlier this year. An escape from motherhood, from work, from laundry. It was short but glorious. I was sitting an exam in Melbourne (before lockdown). My sister lives in a city apartment, so I caught the train and crashed on her couch. On the last day, with a few hours to spare before my train left, I decided to head out for a long walk.
It was one of those perfect autumn days in Melbourne. The sky was a deep, cloudless blue. It was sunny but crisp enough to need a warm jacket. I bought a takeaway almond milk latte and enjoyed the warmth of it in my hands.
I didn’t have a plan of where I was going. I was enjoying the feeling of not needing to be anywhere or do anything. I love visiting Melbourne with my family, but holidays with young children are more stressful than travelling alone. On my solitary walk, I was able to drink it all in. Delicious smells and indie music wafted out from café doors.
As I turned up Elizabeth Street heading north, I found myself wandering towards my old university campus. I climbed the steps up to South Lawn and looked around. Students were sprawled out on the sunny grass, studying and drinking coffee. The sandstone buildings and deciduous trees were just as I remembered them.
Walking towards the medical school buildings, I felt overwhelmed by memories. It was all so familiar. The smells of coffee and damp leaves transported me to when I was eighteen - away from home for the first time, trying to fit in, anxiously managing the heavy study load. I remembered quiet hours labouring away in the ancient-smelling library. I remembered the bike rides, op-shopping and endless pots of tea with dear friends. I remembered the long walks I took with my now-husband when we were first dating. I cannot believe how quickly the years have passed.
I was eighteen when I started medical school. Life was so open-ended and limitless back then. As I wandered those gardens and retraced my old footsteps, I wondered what my eighteen-year-old self would think of me now, at thirty-six. Would I approve of the choices I had made? Would I have looked forward with excitement to my future, knowing how it would turn out?
On the train, as I headed home, I thought about how much becoming a mother has changed me. I think I will always be a dreamer. However, my dreams and plans now need to be balanced with family and financial responsibilities. My home is messier, my laundry basket is out of control, and my car is full of booster seats and crumbs. I never get quite enough sleep. But I am so lucky. My children welcomed me home from that trip with such warmth and joy. Later that evening, as I checked on them all sleeping, I felt sincere gratitude.
I am sure all of us have times when we look back on the younger version of ourselves and compare our lives now. Although I miss the spontaneity and freedom I had then, I know I wouldn’t go back even if I had the chance. Sometimes I despair at how hard it is to keep the house tidy, but I remember that it will likely be just the two of us here one day. My walls may be free of scribbles, and the windows clean from sticky fingers, but I am going to miss my children so much.
In the morning, when I get woken too early by the sound of tiny feet and a little person climbs into bed for a snuggle, I try to breathe them in and imprint them in my memory. As tired as I am, it is such a privilege.